Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

An Interview with Notre Dame Basketball Coach Matt Doherty

June 11, 1999

Editor’s Note: Matt Doherty was named the 16th head coach in the history of Notre Dame basketball on March 30, 1999. He has served the previous seven years as an assistant coach at Kansas as the Jayhawks played in the NCAA tournament in each of those seven years, including a trip to the Final Four in ’93 and the regional finals in ’96. Prior to coaching at Kansas, he was an assistant coach at Davidson for three seasons from 1989-92. Doherty is a 1984 North Carolina graduate and was a member of the ’82 Tar Heel national championship team. He was a three-year starter and scored 1,165 career points and registered 446 assists, still the ninth-highest in school history.

Matt, your name has surfaced for a lot of head coaching jobs the past few years. What was is about the Notre Dame job that lured you away from your successful career as an assistant at Kansas?
“I think there were a couple of things. There were some jobs that were open in the last couple of years that I would have taken if they were offered and they weren’t. Then there were jobs I interviewed for that were offered to me. There were jobs that I didn’t interview for, but felt confident they would offer me the job if I got involved. And then there were all kinds of jobs in between. There were rumors that I was involved in jobs that were not true. So it’s a crazy rumor mill.

“But why Notre Dame? I think it’s a fit with my personality. I think Notre Dame represents class, integrity and excellence. I hope that I have those qualities in my life and I feel proud to represent this fine University.”

What was it like coaching at Kansas and working with Roy Williams?
“The more you are away from the situation the more you appreciate it. Coach Williams really treats the people around him with a great deal of class. He respects them, is very thoughtful and is considerate. He gave me a lot of responsibility and a lot of credit — probably more credit than I deserved. It was a great learning experience for me. I sat next to him for seven years and watched him operate one of the finest basketball programs in the country. By watching him run the program, I learned a lot. That has really helped me in my first weeks here at Notre Dame in regard to recruiting, my coaching staff and scheduling.”

What was is it like playing at North Carolina and being coached by Dean Smith?
“There are so many lessons I learned from Coach Smith, both on and off the court. He taught the team how to treat people properly, he would give us English lessons in the lockerroom setting and so many basketball experiences.

“To go back to what I touched on with Coach Williams, I’ll touch on with Coach Smith and I’ll touch on with my short experience here at Notre Dame.

“It’s all about treating people properly and with respect and it’s about taking care of people. You need to be thoughtful and care about the people that work for you and with you. Coach Smith treated his players and the people that worked for him with a great deal of respect.

“I’ve witnessed the same thing here at Notre Dame. Recently, I went to a dinner the University had to honor the administrative staff of the school and it went on for about three hours. I think time is a precious commodity and we all wish we had more time. We all can say things, write letters, but when you spend time — quality time — that shows people that you care.

“I think that’s what Coach Smith did with his players and former players. It is what Coach Williams does with his players and staff.”

Growing up in Long Island, how did you get involved in basketball?
“I remember my dad signed me up for Gus Alfieri’s basketball camp at St. Anthony’s High School in Smithtown, Long Island. It was a great camp. My dad signed me up for camp, bought my first jock strap and off I went — and I loved it.

“I love basketball. I love the intricate details of basketball — the footwork, the pivoting, the boxing out , using the pick and roll — all those little details that go into it.

“I love the fact you can work on basketball by yourself. You can improve without other people around. You just need a basketball to work on your ballhandling. So I was consumed with it and I enjoyed it a great deal.

“From fourth grade on, I was going to basketball camp at least two weeks a summer. I dreamed about playing for the New York Knicks. I dreamed about getting a scholarship to college, dreamed about being an All-American and all those things. It all led to me being the head coach at Notre Dame.”

What were the sports teams you followed as a youngster and who were your sports heroes?
“I think I was typical of New York fans. You jumped on the band wagon of the team that was winning. Growing up I was a New York Met fan. I remember Bud Harrelson and Ed Kranepool. Tom Seaver was my favorite pitcher. Gil Hodges was number 14 for the Mets and I wore number 14 with the Mustangs, my little league baseball team.

“I was a pitcher and used to try to pitch like Tom Seaver. He had the leg drive and his knee would get dirty as he dragged his knee into the dirt when he’d throw his fastball.

“Baseball was the thing everyone played first. In fourth grade, basketball took over and then by sixth grade I quit baseball to stick with basketball.

“A big influence in my basketball career were the New York Nets, not only the Knicks. I got to taste the Nets up close and personal. I grew up in East Meadow which was five minutes from the Nassau Coliseum where the Nets then played. The Knicks played in Madison Square Garden and that was a 30-mile train or car ride. I never went to a Knicks game growing up.

“I went to a lot of the Nets games — Julius Irving, Larry Kenon, Brian Taylor, John Williamson — I got to see them first-hand. The Nets players spoke at basketball camps in the summer and that’s when they were winning their championships in ’74 and ’76. Kevin Loughery and Rick Barry were on Long Island, too, and Barry was actually my favorite player growing up. I always tried to imitate those players. I tried to shoot like Dr. J. and act like Rick Barry.

“But, I loved the Knicks, too. I remember going to the park after watching the Knicks play and acting like I was all five starters. There was nobody else in the park — just me.”

What was your awareness of Notre Dame growing up?
“Everyone knows Notre Dame. Growing up Irish-Catholic in New York, you can’t help but follow Notre Dame — football, basketball, everything they would do. When I was in high school, Notre Dame went to the Final Four with Kelly Tripucka — that was prime basketball time for me. I was sleeping with a basketball — the whole deal. Notre Dame was America’s team, like the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bulls. I remember following them very closely and then being recruited by Notre Dame. Toby Knight was from Long Island and played at Notre Dame. I remember when Notre Dame played North Carolina in the NCAA tournament on St. Patrick’s Day and North Carolina ended up winning. There were so many great Notre Dame moments, like seeing Dwight Clay’s jump shot to beat UCLA and end the 88-game winning streak in ’74. I watched that game on television, but I felt like I was at that game.”

What is your philosophy on recruiting and how will it apply to Notre Dame?
“I want to recruit the best student-athletes available. I think you have to have a fit. It’s like me with this job. I feel I am a fit at Notre Dame. Just because a kid is a great player and a good student doesn’t mean it’s always a fit for your university. I don’t want to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. I think you have to make sure you do your research — find out what he’s like as a student, a player and what his personality is like. I want the right fit for Notre Dame. Not everyone is a good fit for Notre Dame.”

Once you get the team on the floor, what style of play will you use?
“It would be foolish of me to change what I know from Kansas and North Carolina and their style of play. I said at my press conference when I was introduced that 75-90 percent of what we will do will be Kansas and North Carolina’s style of play and 10 percent will be Matt Doherty. That will be my own personal beliefs and will also be the talent on the court.

“At Kansas, we had Jacque Vaughn and we were flying up and down the court putting great pressure on the basketball. Maybe Martin Ingelsby is not Jacque Vaughn, but maybe Martin Ingelsby is a better shooter. Maybe we’ll need to set more screens for him to get him free to shoot the jump shots. Maybe Troy Murphy is our best overall ballhandler versus Jacque Vaughn at guard. So it’s my job — and the exciting part of coaching — to put players in a position where they can be successful as individuals and therefore we will have success as a team.

“So I’m not going to try and say this is how we are going to play and fit the players into that style. I think there is a happy balance where I have to fit the style to the players.”

What is your knowledge of the BIG EAST and the coaches in the league?
“I’ve gotten to know Coach Calhoun at Connecticut. He and Coach Jarvis from St. John’s helped Coach Williams with a USA Basketball Under-22 team in the summer of ’93. In fact, Monty Williams from Notre Dame was on that team. When I was at Kansas, we played UConn twice, once at Kemper Arena and once in Hartford. I know their style of play. We played Syracuse in the NCAA tournament before and they beat us in the Final Four. Also, from growing up in New York I know Syracuse and Coach Boeheim — actually his staff recruited me when I was in high school. St. John’s is the same. I grew up 20 minutes from St. John’s so I am familiar with St. John’s and Coach Jarvis. Those are the teams I am most familiar with but they are all on television in the BIG EAST so I’ve seen all of them play.”

What will your non-league schedule philosophy be?
“I think that long-term I would like to have three or four national non-league games each year in addition to Indiana, who we play every year. I’d like to rekindle some old rivalries. I think with Notre Dame being a national university you want to touch both coasts. We may want to play in some holiday tournaments as well.”

What do you look for in a staff and talk about the two assistant coaches you have already hired — Doug Wojcik of Navy and Bob McKinnon, the former head coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
“The biggest things I look for in an assistant coach, in this order, are loyalty and then hard work. I think if someone is very loyal to you, you can never go wrong, and if they work hard, you really have something there.

“On top of that, if they are intelligent, personable and have morals then you really have somebody special. I believe I have that in Doug and Bob.

“It just so happens that they both have a military background — Doug, throughout his career at Navy as a player and a coach, and Bob, recently working at Kings Point. I think that helps a great deal. Notre Dame is a special place and those two have recruited the types of players that need to come here — good players who are quality kids.”

What was it like playing in Bookstore Basketball?
“I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article on Bookstore Basketball many years ago. I always knew about Bookstore Basketball and thought it would be neat to participate in it. During my first week on the job, two students, Jed (D’Ercole) and Rich (Stasica), wrote me a letter to tell me how excited they were that I was here. Jed is from Chapel Hill so he’s a big Carolina fan. They were excited I was here, but disappointed they would not get to experience seeing my teams in person. They wanted to wish me luck and on top of that they invited me to play Bookstore and I jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought it would be fun and it would give me the opportunity to meet the student body. It was fun. We won our first game and then the second game was played in a driving rain — Bookstore games don’t get postponed or rescheduled because of weather. Plus, with over 550 teams you can’t reschedule everybody. So we played and we lost. We were up 11-9 at halftime and we ran out of gas.

“When I showed up for the first game, I thought it was a half-court deal and then I realized it was full court. I haven’t played much ball at all lately, but definitely not full court. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from playing, but that’s not the reason I played in it. I played in it because it was fun.”

You mention family quite often. Talk about yours and your basketball team being a family.
“Kelly and I have been married eight years now and we have a two-year-old son Tucker and will have a new baby in September.

“There’s nothing more important than family, even now when you may spend more time at work than you do with your family. Having a wife who is your best friend and a son adds a wholeness to your life. It adds balance and gives me perspective on the true meaning of life and you realize there is nothing more important than that. It’s a great experience being a dad. I look forward to all the experiences you have, good and bad, and hopefully there is a lot more good than bad.

“As far as the team goes, I think most people should coach basketball because they love the game and they want to develop good relationships with young people. Coaches should want to impact the lives of their players in a positive way. That’s very powerful. It’s a very powerful position to be in because we all know that if you play athletics your coach, at some point, had a very positive impact on you or a negative impact on you.

“It is a position of power and I don’t treat that lightly. It’s an exciting position to lead men and hopefully lead them in a positive way. They will disappoint you at times but they will surprise you, too. I think it would be a great experience to have our players come back to Notre Dame and have a reunion in 20 or 30 years. You would get to hear about old times and laugh about the time somebody split their pants in the huddle and experiences like that.”

What do you do to get away and relax?
“I like to spend time with my family. I like to watch Tucker do something. I like to play with him in the backyard or watch a video with him. I like to get out on the golf course with good friends and compete. I like to share private moments over a good meal with some good friends.”

Give us your initial opinion of the players already in the program.
“I think Troy Murphy is that special player who can do a lot of things very well. He is a potential star. David Graves is an exceptional shooter. He works at it. He can be a very valuable part of the team. Harold Swanagan is a special kid. He is a hard worker who will be one of the natural leaders of this team.

“Martin Ingelsby is a quiet leader with a deadly shot. He is the key to the team because he’s the point guard. Skylard Owens is very emotional and a very valuable part of the team. He adds not only to team chemistry but adds athleticism as well.

“Jimmy Dillon is another key to the team . He and Martin, are the keys to the team — not to put pressure on them — but if they are productive and take care of the basketball we can have a good year. I think Todd Palmer’s leadership on and off the court is valuable.”

Talk about the four freshmen and where they will fit in this year.
“Mike Monserez has great savvy and knows how to play the game. He is a winner and a good ballhander. Matt Carroll is a tough kid and a pure shooter. He is a tough competitor. Ivan Kartelo has a chance to be a special player. He can run, he can block shots and rebound. He has good hands and can shoot the ball from the perimeter. Jere Macura is an athlete who can run and jump. He will add that wing player to our roster that we really don’t have. We have big guards and we have power forwards, but we don’t have that in between player.”